About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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Part 10

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Who Should We Give To?


Evangelicals have been taught to give to their local church because that’s where they’re fed.  I understand this reasoning, but its more self-serving than anything else.  Such giving provides a nice comfortable place for us to meet, eat, play sports and more, but doesn’t seem to fit New Testament thinking about how churches should spend their money.  Besides, we should be feeding ourselves more than we do.


As I study the New Testament I note that the most predominant recipients of both our personal and our church giving should be to our poor brothers and sisters in Jesus.  There’s many poor Christians scattered throughout the world, and in our local churches that desperately need help.  The sad fact of the matter is that many churches don’t have sufficient funds to help their own poor let alone poor people in foreign countries, and it’s not because people don’t give.  It’s because the priority of church finances is designated to organizational things, not people.  A quick glance at most church’s financial statements speaks volumes about their spending priorities. 


Another place we’re told give to is our immediate family.  If we don’t provide for them we’re worse than an unbeliever. (1 Tim. 5:8)  


We know from 1 Cor. 9 that Christian leaders are entitled to our financial support. How much financial support is not stated.  Paul for the most part chose not to receive such support, and when he did he passed it on to others. (2 Cor. 11:7-10)  Paul’s mentality is seen in 2 Cor. 12:15 where he says, “I will very gladly spend for you everything I have…”.  The word “you” refers to “people”, not an organization.  I suggested to one pastor that Paul’s example might be worth considering for today’s leaders. He told me that was Paul’s personal choice, not his.      


I have no problem supporting Christian leaders who serve our Lord.  That’s clearly New Testament thinking. The word “serve”  is the key because  Christian leaders are to be servants. That’s why we call them “ministers”.  Most times when you read the word “minister” and other related words in the New Testament, they’re translated from the Greek word “diakonos” which means “to serve, or a servant”, depending on whether “diakonos” is used as a noun or a verb.  Pastoring then  is all about serving, not about being served.     


Today’s ministers are not always servants.  They’re often paid professionals, CEOs who make a very good living at being  servants.  Their salaries are often much higher than the average person’s salary in their church.  This places them in an elevated position over and above God’s people. This is not New Testament thinking. Christian leaders serve from a place of humility.  Paul says in 2 Cor. 11:7 that “he  lowered himself to elevate” the Corinthians.  But once again, maybe that was Paul’s personal choice and has no relevance for us today. 


You might say that today’s Christian leaders deserve every bit of their high salary for all the work they do.  Well, if we’d follow New Testament teaching concerning church, they wouldn’t have to be  “jack of all trades”.  I think a pastor’s salary should reflect the average salary of those he’s caring for, which places him along side the people, not above them.    


As in any corporation, salaries, building and program expenses take up the bulk of the budget.  This chokes the financial life out of a church.  Buildings that were built to serve the mission of the church have become a financial burden in many cases, leaving nothing left for true Scriptural priorities.  We now serve the building instead of it serving us.


Back in the early 1970’s some of us young Christians were discipled by our good friend Glenn Shaver, who some of you know.  He taught us that Christian giving is all about giving to people, which is New Testament thinking.  Such giving enabled me to attend Bible College .    


In the last few years my wife and I have not been associated with a traditional church. That doesn’t mean we’re not a functioning part of the Body of Christ, because we are.  It does mean that the joy of giving has returned to my life.  I now begin to close my thesis where I began.  Whereas once I gave to church needs out of  routine and obligation, I now find joy by giving to individuals or groups in need without expecting a tax receipt in return. We may give to help those need or to simply bless them.  Whatever the case, we do give with cheerfulness, doing as Glenn Shaver taught us years ago.  I suppose if we all gave this way we’d have to rethink our church structure altogether, which might not be a bad idea.


Concluding Thoughts   

The idea that Christians are to tithe is absent in the New Testament. One pastor told me that all first generation Christians tithed so there was no need to teach it and that’s why there’s no mention of it in the New Testament.  Well, I sincerely doubt that.  Money issues are always problematic, and the relevance of the Law of Moses for Christians was their biggest problem. Christians weren’t taught to tithe because it wasn’t a New Testament teaching.  It’s that simple.

The New Testament emphasizes matters of the heart.  Jesus blasted the Pharisees for showing off their religiousness while denying God in their hearts. (Matt. 15:8)  In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit was first given to believers so they could represent Jesus effectively.  When the Spirit comes into our lives, He begins to address these heart issues. At this point we stop living by law to serve Jesus from our hearts inspired by the Holy Spirit.   

Some people argue that tithing existed before the Law and therefore exists after the Law.  This has no Scriptural logic. If you study pre-law tithing you’ll find that it’s both a vague and obscure subject.  It was adopted into the Law and was clarified therein, and we know that "Christ is the end of the Law", and that includes the tithing laws.  (Rom 10:4)      


The suggestion that the Law of Moses has been laid aside and the Ten Commandments have been redefined brings some opposition.  Paul had the same opposition when people said he was preaching, “let us sin so grace can abound”. (Rom. 6:1)  I’m not teaching a license to sin and neither was Paul.  That’s taking advantage of God’s grace, as is the case when we depend on law and not God’s grace.       


If you’re really fixed on tithing then you should tithe as the Old Testament demands, and that means 23.3 %.  If you can do that cheerfully from your heart, and not teach others to do the same,  you get a little closer to New Testament thinking, but you’re still a long way off. 


Statistics show that Christians don’t tithe as they once did, even though they believe and teach tithing.  My guess is that many don’t tithe because they’ve slacked off in their spiritual fervor. This is no reason to stop tithing.  You stop tithing and start giving because you understand New Testament teaching. 


I’ll close with 2 Cor. 9:12 . It reads, “this service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions in thanks to God”.  The service that Paul speaks of here is the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem . Notice their financial giving was only one expression of thanks.  There’s many ways in which we can express our thankfulness.  Money isn’t the only way.  Our whole lives belong to Jesus, not just 10 % of our income. We therefore give from every aspect of who we are.   


I leave you with my simplest definition that I can come up with for the New Testament’s teaching on the giving of our money.  “We give cheerfully, generously, out of a pure love for Jesus according to our ability to give, understanding that we have more to give than just money.     


Consider what I’ve said and may our Lord give you the understanding in all things.  Thanks for reading.    


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